“Solitary Moods,” the new single from Leeds, U.K.-based electronic outfit ENGINE, has been five years in the making, and features samples by Dominic Freeman and guitars and vocals by James Elson. The duo have been making music together since 2012 when they met at Leeds University.
Rejecting traditional song structures, ENGINE beatmaker Freeman calls the track “two songs in one.” Part one starts as a floaty dance track, building sample upon sample until Elson’s drawn-out vocals kick in. The combination of lyrics and their delivery evokes images of a ghost, wandering hallways – or the empty streets of a quarantined world. Part two of the track slowly emerges with Elson’s guitar scratching before sliding into multi-layered psychedelia, building to form a platform for Elson’s introspection. The track then winds down, ending much as it began, with percussion samples guiding the song to a natural close.
Oliver Cable caught up with Freeman and Elson in the weeks before the single release to talk about the track.
Talk me through the process of writing “Solitary Moods.“
James: The track was written a few years ago now. Dom made the main beat and the instrumental track and then I added vocals and the guitar later on. Writing to Dom’s beats is interesting, it challenges me to work to a different structure, rather than a verse-chorus-repeat.
Dom: I was messing around sampling things. I slowed down a drumbeat, overlaid it with itself in double-speed, then layered on a few more samples to make it dream-like.
James: We created a soundscape that sounds very involved, but neither of us were present at the time of the other person’s recording. At the time, I was working in a supermarket, getting up at 7 a.m. to unload potatoes. It wasn’t the most joyous experience – I felt isolated from my coworkers, isolated from my housemates, and was altogether going a bit crazy, hence the title.
Dom: For the second half of the track, I took a more disco drumbeat and built a few loops around that. It felt like I was blending the second half into the first using pre-existing loops and samples I’ve created.
James: Lyrically, the second half was inspired by my younger brother going through some personal things at the time. I wrote it as an emotional pep-talk to him. Looking back though, it’s as much a note to self – typical introspective lyrics!
The title seems very fitting for a time of quarantine. Is that why you decided to put it out now?
Dom: Releasing it now was definitely inspired by lockdown. We’d sent a few tracks to Charlie Bones’ breakfast show on NTS, and he chose “Solitary Moods” as the one he wanted to play. We were leaning more towards one of the other two we’d sent, but maybe the title caught his attention.
Where did the track samples come from?
Dom: The samples come from all over the place. I’d been going through some of my dad’s old record collection and also picked up some obscure records from charity shops. There was one I sampled called “Music for Zen Meditation,” one called “Celtic Harp Music.” In the end I used about eight-nine different samples in the track, some of which I’d created myself.
What forms your inspiration as a band?
Dom: From my side, it’s electronic music: dance, house, techno, ’90s and contemporary electronic.
James: From my side, it’s progressive pop music. Bands like Talk Talk, where the music evolves quite organically, as opposed to verse-chorus patterns. I like later-stage Beach Boys: progressive song structures with sugary vocals. We also like to take on the spirit of long-form music without imitating it, like Grateful Dead or [German experimental rock band] CAN.
What’s next for ENGINE?
Dom: We’re working on an album called Aviary Bar – we played a gig at The Social run by Heavenly, just off Oxford Street in London. Afterwards, we were looking for somewhere to go out, and we found this weird place called the Aviary Bar, with vines up the walls and fake birds and butterflies. There’s a song called that on the upcoming album, which will be out in a few months.
James: We’re really trying to experiment and do different things. In “Solitary Moods,” the guitar is pitched up an octave, just to create that interesting sound. We’re very hyper-active listeners – always looking for new music, and these influences translate into our own music. We’ll do something new one day and get bored of it the next.
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Purchase and stream “Solitary Moods” by ENGINE across all streaming platforms on Friday 17 July.